Human targets are best

In his book ‘Happiness’, Richard Layard points out that: ” People care most about their income relative to that of other people” i.e. more than the total itself

He says most people would even be willing to accept a significant fall in their living standards as long as they could move up compared to other people

And when they do compare their income versus what they themselves have got used to, he says richer people always want/ need more than poorer people

Hence the greed we see exhibited by some at the top of trees

So it’s relativity that counts most

The importance of this is best demonstrated by human athletes – they invariably run harder when competing in races against others, not the clock or their PB (Personal Best)

And in Olympic races, Layard notes that bronze medallists usually look happier than silver medallists – the former compare themselves with people who got no medal, the latter believe they might have got gold

So the message for businessmen setting targets for their teams is:

  • Beware simply adding say 5% to last year’s target – that may well not be good enough
  • Instead, identify who are your main competitors, or beacon units if in the public sector
  • Establish their PBs in key performance areas which you need to beat/ emulate if you are to win
  • Tell your team about these PBs – and prove them if you can
  • Agree your own targets with your team
  • Closely monitor progress against these targets – and post the results on noticeboards so all your team can see them
  • Make sure publicity and medals of some sort are awarded to winners when they succeed


It’s not rocket science – but it’s effective










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